Staff retention – first impressions matter

By Kirsty Dickens

There’s no denying it can be a challenge at times to find the right people to work on farm.

But finding skilled people, who are passionate about dairy, is only half the battle. Once we find them, we need to do our best to keep them.

Retention rates for staff in their first year of employment in the dairy sector currently sits at around 40 percent. That means six out of every ten people choose to leave their job in the first year.

We know anecdotally that most people decide if a job is the ‘right fit’ for them in the first week, and around half decide it isn’t. No employer wants to be in a position where a new recruit is already thinking about leaving.

That’s why it’s crucial that employers do everything they can to make a great first impression. That first week is your opportunity to show your new employee why they should stay with you, and your team, long-term.

This is where simple things such as a good introduction (induction), orientation and ongoing support can go a long way in helping you retain your new employee.

According to the Harvard Business Review giving a good induction can increase the odds of your employee staying from 54 percent to 66 percent.

Add in ongoing support and this increases the likelihood of them staying to 75 percent. Not only will this help them fit in with their new team and, if they’re new to the area, get to know the community, but benefit you by helping them hit the ground running in their new role.

And these are just the basics in helping new employees settle in, and I believe we need to strive to be doing more, to not only retain staff but to attract talented and passionate people to dairy farming. As many of you know, this is one of our six commitments in the sector strategy Dairy Tomorrow. We are focusing, as a sector, on building great workplaces to inspire people to want to work in dairy.

I spoke to an award-winning couple who are doing an exceptional job in this space to find out what they do to make their farm a great place to work.

Creating a great agri-CULTURE

Waikato farmers Marc and Nia Jones believe creating the right culture goes a long way in retaining staff and is the foundation of any great workplace.

The couple recently won Waikato Share Farmer of the Year, and received merit awards for human resources, leadership and health and biosecurity.

It’s clear talking to Marc that he and Nia have a passion for people and their team are the heart of their business.

Their mission statement is “growth to enrich life”, and Marc says this principle guides everything they do on farm, including their approach to managing their team.

The couple have a strong set of values which help create a team culture and positive environment on farm and has contributed to high staff retention rates.

One of their core values is that “no one is too big to do the small stuff”. And this why they choose to have a flat organisation structure, with “no hierarchy system”. Marc says the only exception to this structure is responsibility and accountability levels which determine staff remuneration.

The couple also place great importance on developing their staff by providing ongoing training and learning opportunities.

“Let’s create leaders – that’s one of our other values,” says Marc.

The couple ask staff what their goals are, both personally and professionally, and look at how they can support them in achieving these. They build in these discussions during their staff appraisals, which they call “role goal meetings”, and help develop a pathway to reach their goals.

He says while they haven’t had to recruit any full-time staff for some time, they help seasonal staff, brought in to help during the busy calving period, settle into their new role through a “buddy system”. This sees new staff supported in familiarising themselves with the farm and their role by running through key tasks with Marc or a senior staff member.

“We essentially show them the ropes.”

Marc believes training new staff is extremely important in helping set them up for success.

He believes all these small things add up to making a great workplace and inspires people to want to work in the dairy sector.

For more information to help you get the best out of your team and retain staff, visit

  • Kirsty Dickins is a DairyNZ consulting officer based in Te Awamutu

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